Howells: A Sequence for St Michael; Collegium Regale; Service for St George’s Chapel, Windsor

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COMPOSERS: Howells
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Howells
WORKS: A Sequence for St Michael; Collegium Regale; Service for St George’s Chapel, Windsor
PERFORMER: Choir of Wells Cathedral/Malcolm Archer; Rupert Gough (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67494
‘Michael! Michael!’ The wrenchingly discordant cris de cœur which dramatically lift the curtain on this all-Howells programme ostensibly apostrophise the archangel, but also mourn the son whom the composer lost in childhood. Angular shafts of vocal writing chart the stark emotional parameters of this graphically imagined ‘Sequence’ (particularly vivid contributions from the treble section), and at the work’s centre a solo tenor (the excellent Iain Macleod-Jones) claims a brief moment of eerily calm remission.

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Not all the other pieces are this radical, but the quality of Howells’ inspiration barely wavers. Especially in the two evening Services included here, that for New College Oxford, and the more famous Collegium Regale (an exceptional performance, this). The phrasing of Malcolm Archer’s Wells Cathedral choir is unobtrusively intelligent, Howells’ long, powerfully expanding crescendos emerging as naturally evolving arcs in the ongoing musical argument. Tonal blend is excellent, and there is no superficial straining for effect whatsoever. This is genuinely devotional singing, technique placed entirely at the disposal of the music’s spiritual message. Rupert Gough’s organ accompaniments are exemplary. Terry Blain